Gov. DeSantis clouds Florida Sunshine laws

Changes to public records protocol to keep public in the dark

Investigators at News 6 have highlighted how the release of public records have been slowed significantly during Governor Ron Desantis’ administration.

Now Florida’s Fourth Estate hosts Matt Austin (@FLNewsman) and Ginger Gadsden (@gingerlee7) are talking about how it impacts Floridians with journalist Jason Garcia.

Garcia has worked with the Orlando Sentinel and now writes for the podcast and newsletter Seeking Rents, which focuses on the way businesses influence public policy.

Garcia said in all of his years of working as a journalist he has never seen an administration move so slowly in disclosing what lawmakers are doing on behalf of the people they were elected to serve.

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“I’ve been doing this since the Jeb Bush administration... and the DeSantis administration is by far the worst at complying with public records laws, and sort of fulfilling public records requests in anything remotely resembling speed or efficiency,” Garcia said.

Garcia said he put in a public records request asking for emails from Desantis’ legislative affairs director during the 2022 legislative session. He says he made the request more than a year ago and still hasn’t had his request fulfilled.

“There’s no reason for it, right? They just slow walk these because they can and they dare folks to sue them,” said Garcia.

Garcia said this kind of behavior is harmful to Floridians who rightfully expect transparency from their government officials.

“They expect to be able to sort of understand how and why decisions get made,” Garcia said. “And so, when you start holding that stuff back, it just sort of further erodes trust and confidence in government. Which is a big part of why we’re seeing such polarization. Folks don’t trust government. And this is the sort of thing that further makes folks not trust government.”

It’s not just about getting records to people in a timely manner. Garcia said the governor is also keeping information private by claiming he has exemptions he is not entitled to.

“Ron DeSantis is claiming executive privilege as if he were a U.S. president. He’s basically making the case in a number of different court cases, a number of different lawsuits going right now, that he is exempt from certain parts of public records law because of executive privilege, which is not something that exists in the Florida Constitution or anywhere in Florida Statutes. But they found one trial court judge so far to say, you know what, the governor of Florida does have executive privilege. So that’s now an appellate court case,” Garcia said.

Congress defines executive privilege as, “The authority of the President to withhold documents or information in his possession or in the possession of the Executive Branch from the Legislative or Judicial Branch of the government.”

To learn more about Florida’s Sunshine Laws and how they are changing under Desantis’ administration check out Florida’s Fourth Estate. You can download the podcast from wherever you listen to podcasts or watch anytime on News 6+.

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About the Author:

Tiffany produces the News 6+ Takeover at 5:30 p.m., Florida's Fourth Estate and Talk to Tom.